Puget Sound parents have so many private schools to choose from that it can be tough to decide on just one. Luckily, parents can turn to The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve for guidance. The book’s author is Peg Tyre, a former Newsweek education reporter and also the author of The Trouble with Boys. Tyre spoke to ShowCase about points to consider when evaluating a school.
In preschool, the relationship between teacher and student is key. This connection is more important than any curriculum, Tyre says. Look for a preschool teacher who is very engaged. Have a conversation with a prospective teacher about their current classroom. They should be able to speak about individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and be well-informed about their background, interests, and emotional and academic achievements.
The early years: words, words, words Children should be surrounded with words, especially in the early years, Tyre says. Look for books in the classroom and be sure the class makes regular visits to the library. In the preschool and kindergarten years, be sure the teacher is providing the building blocks for learning to read.
Math cannot be an afterthought. From the first days of school, kids should be exposed to math concepts. Tyre says there is no need to wait until children are older and able to think and speak in more abstract ways. She says that math ability has been measured days after birth and seems to be innate in all of us. In the U.S., parents, kids and even teachers may describe a person as “bad at math.” In other countries where kids perform better in math, however, if a student is not performing well in math, parents, kids and teachers say the student needs to work harder. “Math is not a talent,” says Tyre. “It’s a muscle you develop.”
Don’t focus too much on standardized test scores. Sometimes good test scores can indicate that a school is doing well at educating students, says Tyre, but other times it can indicate that the school is teaching to the test. Standardized tests measure only about one-third of the curriculum that should be taught, so if the school is teaching only the test material, your child is missing out on a lot.
There is no excuse for a school day with no recess. Apart from the obvious physical benefits of exercise, says Tyre, studies have shown that recess also increases cognitive functioning. Kids need a break of at least 20 minutes a day. The same is true for middle-school and high-school students.
Teachers matter, even more than you think. Although not even a “super teacher” can erase the effects of poverty on students, says Tyre, excellent teachers teach more and can accelerate students’ rate of learning. And good schools champion great teachers. Look for schools that provide teachers with mentors, instruction and discussion of best practices.
JORDAN MARIE MCCAW